Another week gone by and another round of $35 DVD purchases await with the Blu-ray Report. Last week was a soft one, but the Blu-ray format comes roaring back this week with a few cool releases and some others with potential. First up, we have bullet-bending fun with Wanted, one of the most unique and creative action movies of the year. Then we move on to Prince Caspian, one of the most bland Lord of the Rings wannabe movies I’ve seen all year. And finally, some other Blu-ray releases that may or may not whet your appetite for 1080 lines of resolution.
Wanted (December 2)
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One of the most inventive and unique action films of the past few years — that is how I would describe Wanted, from director Timur Bekmambetov. It also contains some of the most fun gun play we’ve seen on screen in a while. And not to mention a little bit of Angelina Jolie, sans clothing, which is good no matter what. As audiences found out this summer, even some of the less mainstream comic books — in this case, from the twisted mind of Mark Millar — can be all sorts of fun. In fact, if it weren’t for all the bullet-bending action and the high-energy knife fighting, this movie would have been very run-of-the-mill. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.
Sensory Experience: Inventive and unique might be the best way to describe Wanted, but that doesn’t mean that it is a film filled with overwhelming visuals. While it does look good, these aren’t the kinds of effects that really shine in HD — in fact, I had the opportunity to see the film on regular DVD and BD, and I didn’t notice much of a difference, at least not visually. There is a difference though, in the 5.1 surround mix. The mix on the Blu-ray copy is DTS-HD, which creates a much sharper audible experience. And as anyone who saw this film in theaters knows, it has a pretty solid soundtrack (effects and music) to begin with.
Supporting Materials: As you might expect, there are a lot of visual effects-driven special features on this disc, as this film is full effect breakthroughs that we haven’t seen since The Matrix. There is also a Wanted motion-comic, which will be very cool for anyone who has never read the book. What I found most interesting in all of the features is how much of this film’s vision came from director Timur Bekmambetov. As many fans of the book noted, there were many changes made from novel to screen, many of which came from the equally twisted mind of the director. In watching the interviews with producers and other crew, you can see why Bekmambetov is being touted as one of the most visionary directors working today.
Added Value: First up, the BD release includes a Blu-ray exclusive alternate opening which is very, very different from the one that actually made it into the film. It goes back to the Fraternity in the middle ages, complete with knights, kings and even a dude who can curve an arrow — curve a frickin’ arrow. That is ridiculous. It has me thinking that this Wanted sequel/prequel should be set in the middle ages. The BD release also includes a few solid U-Control features, which is becoming common with Universal releases. There are “Scene Explorers,” which are embedded behind the scenes featurettes — those are alright. There is also a pretty solid amount of picture-in-picture commentary, though it gets more sparse as the film moves along. And finally there are these “Assasin Profiles” that include dossiers on some of the characters, weapons profiles (Fox’s gun is a Custom-Engraved Safari Matchmaster, Semi-Automatic, in case you were wondering) and a global GPS locator, just in case you didn’t know that Wesley lives in Chicago. They make for some fun extras, if that is what you are in it for — and I am.
The Final Verdict: This release is worth it for the alternate opening alone that is BD-exclusive. The guy literally curves an arrow shot out of a crossbow. You have to see it to believe it. As well, the Blu-ray is pretty packed with a solid selection of special features that are unique to the HD platform, something that is becoming more and more important to BD connoisseurs.
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (December 2)
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Having skipped Prince Caspian when it made its theatrical run in May of this year, I was rather excited to be able to review it on Blu-ray. And while I would usually be the first one to tell you that real movie experiences can only happen in a theater setting, the advances in home entertainment (especially with Blu-ray) have certainly come along way. So watching a movie at home isn’t so bad anymore. That said, I wasn’t really a fan of Prince Caspian and I don’t think it has anything to do with seeing it on a smaller screen. While the film was a little bit more action-packed than the first go-round, the franchise does appear to have lost some of the magic it had in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Everything from Ben Barnes’ odd accent, or as I like to call it his Mandy Patinkin impression — seriously, I wanted to hear him say “You killed my fadder..” — to a lackluster story, it just bothered me on several levels. On the basis of just the film, this is one that didn’t impress, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t something to love about the Blu-ray, right? Read on and find out.
Sensory Experience: As I mentioned above, Prince Caspian does turn up the action in Narnia, complete with several mini-Lord of the Rings sized battles and plenty of fun creatures. You might expect that these movies have great special effects, and this one doesn’t disappoint in that regard. In fact, the visuals in Prince Caspian might be one of the best reasons to pick it up on Blu-ray. That is, if you can live on slick HD visuals alone.
Supporting Materials: Like so many recent Disney DVD and Blu-ray releases, Prince Caspian is loaded with features. There is a blooper reel, plenty of deleted scenes and tons of behind the scenes featurettes. And perhaps it was my lack of engagement with the movie overall, but I found myself only mildly entertained with the behind the scenes stuff. To say the least, there was nothing that really jumped out at me. There was, however, one featurette called “Becoming Trumpkin” which featured a look into the world of Peter Dinklage. And we all know how big a fan of Dinklage I am — the man is brilliant. Wait, thats it, these special features just needed more Dinklage — then they would be awesome.
Added Value: What we found recently with WALL-E, we the faithful Blu-ray fans, is that Disney is one of the finest studios in the assembly of its HD special features. It is clear that they have committed to adding value to those of us willing to make the step up to the new tech. With Prince Caspian, there is a very cool feature called “Circle Vision Interactive” which shows some awesome behind the scenes footage from the creation of the castle raid scene. There is also a few BD-Live features, none of which were live prior to the release date (thus, they cannot be reviewed). And while there aren’t an abundance of BD-only extras, the Circle-Vision is pretty cool.
The Final Verdict: If you were a big fan of this movie in its theatrical run, then it is probably worth picking up on Blu-ray. Otherwise, I would toss this into the rental pile at best.
Also Out This Week:
Time to run down a few of the Blu-ray release this week that I did not have the opportunity to review:
Step Brothers – The John C. Reilly / Will Ferrell driven comedy about two 40-year old step brothers and their fight to do nothing with their lives finally makes its way to DVD. And that is where I would probably recommend picking it up, rather than on Blu-ray. In taking a quick look at the press release I received (rather than a BD review copy, of course) I noticed that they special features are almost a dead match on both formats — and lets face it, Step Brothers doesn’t have any brilliant visuals that can only be experienced properly in 1080p. Rent it or buy it on DVD, but do yourself a favor and steer clear of the Blu-ray.
The X-Files: I Want to Believe – Wait a minute, did this movie actually come out in theaters? Oh right, very few people actually saw it. That, to me, is usually reason enough to just add it to my Netflix queue and move on with my life. As well, there doesn’t appear to be much happening under the covers with this Blu-ray release, once again being matched quite well by the 3-disc DVD release. Though, with the price difference (at least on Amazon) only being $2, you might as well spring for the Blu-ray if you plan on picking this one up at all.
The Longshots – I was told by more than one person that this Ice Cube-led football movie wasn’t all that bad. In fact, it was one of the better movies in Ice Cube’s recent filmography. And as long as it is better than Are We There Yet?, then I’m willing to give it a shot. Though, I would like to put up the disclaimer that I am renting this on Blu-ray (thanks Netflix, here’s your extra $1 a month) and not buying it. So don’t take this as an endorsement, just an admission of curiousity and the existence of a Netflix queue.
The Shawshank Redemption – I don’t own The Shawshank Redemption, and instead of having to give up my movielovers card for being a total loser, I have a feeling that I will be picking this up on Blu-ray. Plus, it comes with a 38-page book of behind the scenes stuff — sounds fun.
The Austin Powers Collection – This is the “Shagadelic Edition Loaded With Extra Mojo.” No, thank you.
The Blu-ray Patrol is the weekly column in which FSR’s HD-addicted Executive Editor Neil Miller rants and raves about the upcoming week’s Blu-ray releases. To buy or not to buy, that is always the question. Check back ever Monday to find the answers.